Monday, August 18, 2008

Knowing the Research: The Mentoring Relationship

Hello again! I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend and that those in Chicago were able to take to the lakefront and soak in both the rays and the incredible display of American air superiority that was the Chicago Air and Water Show. Though I can think of a few better ways our government could have spent the 62 billion in American taxdollars it took to develop the F22 Raptor (supporting tutor/mentor programming for instance), it certainly made for an entertaining afternoon. Anyway, due to the veritable torrent of comments I've received about my last post, I'm going to keep this crazy train rolling and offer my 2nd "Knowing the Research" post, this time dedicated to the theme of "The Mentoring Relationship".

So, I realize that I've been throwing around the term tutoring/mentoring without ever explicitly defining what they mean to us. For a thorough discussion of these terms please see

For this post, I will be focusing on the importance of mentors as adults who, along with parents, provides young people with support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive example. To youth, they serve as a guide, a friend, a listener, a coach and a responsive adult. Tutors, on the other hand, play a primarily academic role, helping youth to learn and excel in their coursework. Obviously, in order to succeed, youth need people in their lives that fill both of these roles. Luckily most of us lucky enough to have grown up in the absence of poverty have benefited from engaged parents and teachers who have fulfilled both of these roles for us and allowed us to reach our full potential. However, youth growing up in high-poverty areas of the inner city not only often lack the opportunities and resources to attend high-performing schools that will engage them academically, but also overwhelmingly lack the types of father figures, or other adult role models that can help them surmount the obstacles they face in their neighborhoods, stay in school and enter a career by their mid twenties. Even when kids are bussed into high performing schools like Lincoln Park High School, which many of our students attend, without the support of engaged adult role models, these children are at a disadvantage and unlikely to reach their maximum potential. This is why it is so important to get this kids involved with a dedicated mentor through organizations such as Cabrini Connections, not just someone who can help them with their homework once a week.

For instance, a recent study demonstrated that youth who had been matched with a dedicated mentor for 12 months or longer showed significant improvements in feelings of self-worth and social acceptance, feelings of scholastic competence, improved parent relations, with decreases in drug and alcohol use. However, youth whose matches terminated before three months showed significant regressions in self-worth and feelings of scholastic competence compared even to a control group who received no mentoring at all. (1) This underlines the importance of the first few months of the mentoring relationship and argues for the importance of good volunteer screening and training so that they're ready to effectively engage these youth right off the bat with tried and true techniques. Unsurprisingly, the strongest predictor of relationship length, was the youth's reported quality of the mentoring relationship. Therefore, besides employing techniques that improve relationship quality between mentors and youth, we need to do all we can to keep mentors and mentees together over the long term so that youth can maximally benefit from this long-term involvment and investment in thier future. This underscores the importance of long term planning for volunteer retainment and relationship building with other tutor/mentor programs for younger youth that feed into our program, such as Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program Inc, which serves elementary youth in the neighborhood. These types of partnerships between programs allow mentors to potentially stay with kids from elementary school through HS graduation and develop networks of support that maximize the child's potential for future success.

In facilitating these successful mentoring relationships, we can benefit from taking note of the findings of a recent study that evaluated 10 different mentoring programs. Like the aforementioned studies, they found that mentoring led to fewer absences, better school attitudes and behavior, and increased college attendance as well as decreased decrease drug and alcohol use, especially among minority participants (2). Interestingly, students involved in mentoring benefited from improved parent-peer relations and improved attitudes about adults in general as well as an increased desire to help others. The researchers hypothesized that these improvements in relationships with parents, peers, and the community as a whole in turn lead to improvements in the youth’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Additionally, they found that the more interaction mentors and mentees had, the more effective the relationship was judged to be by the youth involved and the better their long-term outcomes were. They also found it beneficial for programs to use shared interests between mentor and mentee as a primary factor for matching up youth.
As I said in my last post, it is important for tutor/mentor programs to be aware of this research and use it to help guide their programs and make them as effective as possible using their limited resources. I hope that these research summaries can help show how beneficial this work is in helping program coordinators determine what works and what doesn't and, more importantly, helps show how well designed studies and research papers, when aimed at the right audience, can help to improve the lives of countless youth.

Chau pescado!

(1) Grossman, J.B. and Rhodes, J.E. (2002). The Test of Time: Predictors and Effects of Duration in Youth Mentoring. American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 2.
(2) Moore, K.A., Kekielek, S. and Hair, E.C. (2002). Mentoring Programs and Youth Development: A Synthesis, Child Trends

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